Editor’s Note: The following story by Kristopher Bunker appears in the July issue of Woodall’s Campground Management.
As wireless technology continues to evolve, the way people camp is changing as well. Rather than pulling out the old campground directory and guidebooks, many have now turned to the Internet for online booking for campsite reservations, trip planning and traffic/weather conditions, not to mention music, movies and overall entertainment. This newfound reliance on the Internet has actually been years in the making, but it does present an interesting dilemma for campground owners; namely, as the demand on campground Wi-Fi gets heavier every day, what steps can be taken to ensure a pleasant experience for their guests?
Beginning on the booking side, some online registration companies have been met with some resistance at first. “I hear all the time, ‘We don’t offer Internet reservations because we offer top-of-the-top customer service, and we have to talk to them to give them that service,’” says Peter Kearns, vice president and owner of Niagara Falls, Ontario-based Mission Management Information Systems Inc. (MMI). “I tell them, ‘What you want has nothing to do with it. It’s what they want. And what they want is to book between 7:30 p.m. and 3:30 a.m. And your park office isn’t open then.’” Websites such as MMI’s www.bookyoursite have recently seen increased traffic as more and more campground owners are listening to their customers. “The online demand has always been there for the public, but the parks really are just now catching up to it,” says Kearns.
But once somebody has booked their site and fulfilled their stay, what then? If they plan to continue their RVing/camping adventures elsewhere, chances are they’ll head back online to reserve a site at a different location. And that’s where the importance of a reliable Wi-Fi connection at the campground comes in. “When people launch their browser at a campsite, they just want to connect to the Internet and stay connected. If they can’t do that easily, they won’t,” says Eric Stumberg, president/CEO of Austin, Texas-based TengoInternet.
In order to facilitate that ease of use – not only for online booking but especially for more involved, larger tasks like uploading and downloading files – campground owners need to not only offer Wi-Fi at their sites, but to ensure that it’s also readily available and maintained properly. And that begins with making sure the Internet signal coming into the park is strong enough to handle the demand. “The first building block in any Wi-Fi system is the bandwidth coming in,” says Jim Ganley, managing partner at Gray, Maine-based Check Box Systems. And that can cost campground owners more money than they may be prepared to spend. “When you look at the cost of providing reliable Wi-Fi, it’s not cheap,” says Ganley. “But comparing it to other amenities, like swimming pools and athletic facilities, it’s much less expensive, and much higher on the wish list for your guests. Far more guests want Wi-Fi than want to swim laps in the pool.”
Camping purists may consider the demand for Wi-Fi a ridiculous one; you’re supposed to be spending time in the great outdoors, under clear skies, with no electronics whatsoever. But like the demand for pools, clubhouses and even golf courses, the public’s cry for staying connected has necessitated for Internet systems that can handle hundreds – if not thousands – of users in any given 24-hour period.
Others in the industry concur. “The majority of campground owners are now realizing that Wi-Fi is the number one demanded amenity,” says Jim Ames, CEO of Napa, Calif.-based Airwave Adventurers. “If you don’t have reliable Wi-Fi, most likely they’re going to go someplace else.”
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